After 40 years of practicing medicine, Larry Odekirk, DO (COM '63), made the decision to retire in 2003. He had, by his own measure, achieved a level of success as a physician that he could only have imagined while a child growing up in Independence, Missouri.
Dr. Odekirk first developed the desire to become an osteopathic physician early in life, primarily because his best friend's father was an osteopathic physician. After earning a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1959, he and that same friend-the late Charles Zammar, Jr., DO (COM '63)-applied for admission to the Kansas City College of Osteopathy and Surgery, now known as the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (KCU).
"The school didn't look like it does now," says Dr. Odekirk, reflecting on his time in medical school shortly after he and his wife, Gerry, made a significant planned gift to the University. "It was much smaller. I loved the atmosphere, the training and the fact that I was close to home. There really wasn't anything I didn't like."
He spent a lot of time studying and worked hard, taking odd jobs whenever possible to help pay the bills. He and Gerry, whom he met in high school, soon had the first of two sons. Todd was born at Conley Hospital in 1961.
Dr. Odekirk earned his doctor of osteopathic medicine degree in 1963, alongside his best friend, Dr. Zammar.
A Rewarding Career
"I always felt my training was exceptional," says Dr. Odekirk, looking back on his medical school experience. "I was probably better trained than a lot of the allopathic physicians I know."
Dr. Odekirk, a family physician, served as chief of staff at Rocky Mountain Hospital in Denver early in his career, then moved to The Medical Center of Aurora when it opened in the late 1970s, soon becoming the hospital's first osteopathic chief of staff in 1983. He also worked in private practice in Castle Rock, Colorado. Practicing medicine never seemed like work for Dr. Odekirk.
"I've always enjoyed interacting with people and the feeling that I'm doing some good for them," he says.
Not Finished Yet
In 2003, 40 years after earning his DO degree, Dr. Odekirk remembers sitting in his Castle Rock home with Gerry, watching snow fall outside the window in April and reading a cruise magazine. Gerry could tell that her husband was feeling a bit stir crazy.
"I knew he needed to do something," Gerry says. "It just sort of evolved from there."
On a whim, Dr. Odekirk decided to get in touch with the chief medical officer for Holland America. Less than a year later, he was embarking on his first cruise as a ship doctor.
"It's something he really enjoys doing," Gerry says. "He likes to travel, so it's a good job for him."
In 2005 he was selected to serve as passenger medical officer on Holland America's Grand World Cruise, a 105-day adventure that circumnavigated the globe. The cruise was one of the highlights of his life, he says.
While most days as a ship doctor are similar to working in a typical medical office, some situations are made significantly more difficult by being at sea. Strokes are probably the most difficult to treat, Dr. Odekirk says, because the ship doesn't have a CAT scan.
Dr. Odekirk, who has taken approximately 50 cruises and visited all seven continents, is proud to be working at his age; he will be 77 years old in July.
"Not too many people in their 70s are still working," he says. "This degree allows you to do something like this."
Returning to KCU
Dr. Odekirk said that earning his DO degree at KCU opened a world of opportunities for him and his family. After returning to KCU for his class's 50th reunion in 2013, Dr. Odekirk and his wife made the decision that it was time to give something back.
"I've thought about it for a long time," Dr. Odekirk says. "My wife and I are very generous givers to our church. It wasn't until I went back for my 50th reunion that I decided we should really do something for the school, too. I was very impressed with the school and all the people we met. The students were amazing and bright."
Gerry was on board with the idea from the beginning, he says.
"She's a lot more generous a person than I am," he says. "You could say it was her idea. It's something we both wanted to do.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without the University and the education it gave me. I don't know how you measure success, but I think I've been blessed."
After consulting with members of KCU's Advancement Office, the Odekirks decided to make a $100,000 gift to the University through an IRA. It was a convenient way for them to make a significant contribution to KCU's future success.
"I think it's good to support the school," says Gerry, who feels a sense of pride in being able to help future generations of physicians. "Who better to do it than the alumni? (The school) is very impressive. I know the money is what helps make it that way."
While at his class reunion, Dr. Odekirk was astonished at the improvements that have been made to the KCU campus. He was disappointed that more of his classmates weren't there to see it for themselves.
"People who haven't gone back to see what has happened are really missing out," he says. "It was a real eye-opener. It made me really proud to be a graduate of the school. It's amazing.
"If you haven't seen the school, you must go," he adds. "That's what I would say to every alum."